Van Zaig Gallery, a new fine art destination in Palm Desert, opened in December. Owned by Coachella Valley–based artist and philanthropist Susan Van Zaig, the El Paseo gallery operates with a mission to celebrate the work of contemporary female artists while also leveraging the power of that art to provide visibility and resources to women and children refugees worldwide. We spoke with Van Zaig about the gallery’s founding, guiding principles, and future.
Can you tell us a bit about your background as an artist?
I’m a lifelong painter. My first official show was in Toronto in 1996. I also went on eight years of world travel, traveling around Southeast Asia, Europe, and India and was inspired by all of the vibrancy I saw in those places. What drives my work is color.
When I got back from traveling, I moved to Santa Fe, where I lived for a few years. I delved into the art community there and had a couple of group shows in different galleries. And then I moved back to Canada for years, all the while painting.
We eventually moved here to the desert, and I was very inspired when I moved here. It’s just such an unbelievably vibrant area for artists. There’s an energy here and it’s quite prolific.
How did the Van Zaig Gallery come to be?
I started reading a lot about women and children refugees. I started reading about the numbers — that 110 million people in the world are displaced. And 43 million, so almost half, are children. And then I started painting. I started painting refugees; they started to come up in my work. I was drawing these lines of women and children, waiting in line for food.
And then I thought, I have to do more. I thought, I’m going to open a gallery.
I wanted to only have women artists. The turnaround time from the idea of having the gallery to opening the gallery was about six weeks. It was fast, and I was really determined to do it once the ball started rolling.
Part of all proceeds from gallery sales go to Women for Women International. How did that partnership begin?
I looked for an organization that was doing the kind of work that spoke to me. Women for Women is doing incredible work. They’re a two-pronged organization. They do crisis support work and also offer educational programs. I wanted to bring awareness, raise money, and give a percentage of proceeds of the gallery to this organization.
Why El Paseo?
There’s a specific kind of energy and vibrancy surrounding art, culture, and design in the valley, in general, but it seems to be pointedly concentrated on El Paseo. And because of the nature of some of the stores, it attracts a very philanthropic demographic. My experience is that this seems to go hand in hand with the love and appreciation of fine art.
El Paseo is the epitome of that, and the city of Palm Desert promotes El Paseo greatly. It has an international presence in the art world. So, it just seemed like, if I’m going to do it, if I want to reach for the sky, then this is the place to do it.
What is your greatest hope for the future of the gallery?
I’d like to, as fully as possible, actualize the power of female creativity to create resources for women and children.